By Lisa Jardim
A research team led by a University of Florida professor recently developed new processes for screening machines that could significantly decrease travelers’ waits at airport security while effectively detecting explosives in carry-ons.
In an interview, Thierry Dubroca, a postdoctoral researcher who has been working on the project with Professor Rolf Hummel for over three years, said the recent improvements to the machine make it useful for airport security.
According to Dubroca, the technology behind the machine was developed by Professor Hummel around 2004 with funding given after Sept. 11 when a great deal of money was being put toward national security.
It is no secret that, since the attack on America nearly 10 years ago, getting through airport security has become a long, painful process. Ashley Snyder, 21, a senior student at UF, remembers well how frustrating it was to get through security.
“We were flying overseas and they did the wand and wipes check,” Snyder said. “It was a whole ordeal.”
The developed technology for the machine uses ultraviolet light to detect explosive residue that could be left in the carry-on. After the light shines on the carry-on, a computer program detects if there are any residual amounts of explosives left on it by absorbing the light that bounces back from the luggage to detect the signature wave length found in explosives.
Recently, Hummel and Dubroca reached a breakthrough in adapting the already developed technology into a scanner that could be easily used at airports to scan carry-ons in a quick and efficient manner.
“It is more than a refinement, it is actually a huge improvement,” Dubroca said. “In the past it would take 90 seconds to do one measurement point. Now, in about three to five seconds, I can make about 10,000 measurements.”
The good news for travelers is that if this scanner is put into place by the Transportation Security Administration, it will speed the process of getting through security while eliminating human errors and making travelers safer. All without creating any significant cost increases to travelers.
The scanner, which doesn’t look very different from the usual X-rays at the airport security, would cost TSA up to $200,000. And that number, according to Dubroca, can be decreased with mass production.
Although the number looks big, Dubroca said that using the developed scanner will be more reliable and cost effective than the current technology.
In an email interview, Sari Koshetz, regional TSA spokeswoman, said the Explosive Trace Detection is the technology used at security checkpoints in which an officer may swab a piece of carry-on or a passenger’s hand and then place the swab in an ETD unit to analyze the presence of a potential explosive residue.
Dubroca said this method is both expensive and has a high probability of yielding false positives. The method can’t tell the difference among chemicals found in explosives and those found in some cosmetics and fertilizers. It is also only used for random scans, given its high cost.
You could have put on hand lotion and touched your bag and it could lead to a false positive, Dubroca said.
The newly developed scanner can detect the difference among those chemicals and drastically decreases the number of false positives. It also would allow for every bag to be scanned because there is no difference in cost if one or 1,000 bags are scanned.
Koshetz said she hasn’t heard anything about Professor Hummel’s development, but Dubroca said a proposal will be sent to the TSA in the next couple of months.
Until then, remember to get to the airport at least two hours before your flight.